ACS News Service Weekly PressPac: March 24, 2010

Bathing and showering Under-appreciated sources of water pollution from medicines

EMBARGOED FOR RELEASE: Wednesday, March 24, 7:05 p.m., Eastern Time

That bracing morning shower and soothing bedtime soak in the tub are potentially important but until now unrecognized sources of the hormones, antibiotics, and other pharmaceuticals that pollute the environment, scientists reported here today at the 239th National Meeting of the American Chemical Society (ACS). The first-ever evaluation they said, could lead to new ways to control environmental pollution from active pharmaceutical ingredients (APIs), which has been the source of growing concern.

“We’ve long assumed that the active ingredients from medications enter the environment primarily as a result of their excretion via urine and feces,” said Dr. Ruhoy. She directs the Institute for Environmental Medicine at Touro University in Henderson, Nev., and did the research with Christian Daughton, Ph.D., of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s National Exposure Research Laboratory in Las Vegas. “However, for the first time, we have identified potential alternative routes for the entry into the environment by way of bathing, showering, and laundering. These routes may be important for certain APIs found in medications that are applied topically, which means to the skin. They include creams, lotions, ointments, gels, and skin patches.”

Ruhoy and Daughton identified this potential new source of APIs through a comprehensive review of hundreds of scientific studies on the metabolism and use of medications. They focused on APIs in medications that are applied to the skin or excreted from the body via sweat glands. These two sources can result in residues being washed off the body and down bathroom drains. These include steroids (such as cortisone and testosterone), acne medicine, antimicrobials, narcotics, and other substances.


Science Inquiries: Michael Woods, Editor, 202-872-6293
General Inquiries
: Michael Bernstein, 202-872-6042

Showering and bathing wash medicated
creams and ointments off the skin, down
the drain, and into the environment.
Credit: Wikimedia Commons;
photo by DO’Neil
(High-resolution version)